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January 23, 2014 11:30 AM Let Us Raise Health Insurance Premiums, Or We’ll Blow Up the Economy!

By Ed Kilgore

Fans of the grotesque must be enjoying the current Republican game of asserting simultaneously that they’d never in a gazillion years risk a public debt default or provide a debt limit increase without concessions. As Brother Benen notes today, we’ve been here before, twice:

GOP officials said early last year that they would use the debt ceiling to hurt Americans on purpose unless their demands were met, but they were bluffing - Democrats refused to pay a ransom to entice Republicans to do their job, and in the end, GOP lawmakers caved.


Six months later, Republicans again said they would use the debt ceiling to hurt Americans on purpose unless their demands were met, and once more, they were bluffing.- Dems gave them nothing and Congress passed a clean bill.

And yet, he we are again.

Add in the fact that the president has not for a moment backed down on his refusal during the last crisis to negotiate over a debt increase, and it sure looks like another bluff is in the offing—particularly since, as Benen also notes, Republicans “haven’t even bothered to come up with a ransom note, probably because they know it’ll be ignored.”

But the ransom note they are thinking about is pretty interesting: an end to the “risk corridors” provisions of the Affordable Care Act that enables temporary cross-subsidies of insurers who have an unusually poor mix of healthy and unhealthy Obamacare enrollees.

As you probably know, Republicans have been denouncing these subsidies as an “insurance company bailout,” even though most of the money is likely to come from assessments of companies with better risk pools, and the whole thing is intended to stabilize markets temporarily. That’s understandable as a short-term political tactic and as a way to make the “repeal Obamacare” agenda both more indirect and more populist-sounding.

But as the centerpiece of an authentic debt limit fight? That’s hard to imagine. A sustained focus on the “risk corridor” issue will make it plain that the effect of ending the “bailout” will be to raise health insurance premiums—the very malady Republicans have been screaming about as the most important short-term problem with Obamacare. The idea of having to choose between a debt default and higher insurance premiums doesn’t sound much like a winning proposition to me. I’m guessing Republicans find a way to delay the day of reckoning on the debt limit until most of the big Senate primaries are over, thus reducing the incentive for dangerous demagoguing aimed at pleasing a “base” that’s convinced itself a debt default won’t hurt the economy and might even be a good punishment for looters and loafers. Then GOPers will bend to the inevitable, and maybe next time no will take them seriously when they talk about exacting a “price” for a debt limit increase.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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